U.S. Olympic Trials Beckons For USC Swimmers

June 20, 2008

Since 1928, USC swimming and diving has won at least one medal at every Summer Olympics except in 1968.

Now less than two months away from the 2008 Olympics, a handful of international Trojan swimmers have already qualified for the Beijing Games.

American hopefuls get their shot at the U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials, June 29-July 6, at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb., as more than 1,200 swimmers are scheduled to compete for less than 30 spots on the U.S. Olympic team. Only the first- and second-place finishers in each event qualify (with additional swimmers added for the 400m and 800m relays).

USC swimming will be well represented at the eight-day meet. The biggest contingent of current and former Trojans who will race in Omaha will swim under the Trojan Swim Club flag, which is guided by USC men's and women's swimming head coach Dave Salo.

Highlighting the group of current USC swimmers is Rebecca Soni, who is the top seed in the 200m breast by a full two seconds at 2:23.36. A four-time NCAA champion who has won the NCAA title in the 200y breast all three years in school, Soni is the second-fastest American ever in the 200m breast and the fourth fastest ever in the world.

The American record holder in the event is Olympic veteran Amanda Beard (2:22.44), but she enters the meet seeded eighth. The American with the next closest time in the 200 meters is Megan Jendrick (2:25.36). Also lurking in the field is 2004 Olympian Tara Kirk, Trojan Club teammate Keri Hehn and 17-year old Caitlin Leverenz.

Soni is also one of the top seeds in the 100m breast, her seed time of 1:06.94 the third-fastest in the event. Trojan Swim Club teammate and former Cal rival Jessica Hardy is the top seed (1:06.20) while Kirk is seeded second (1:06.34) and Jendrick is fourth (1:07.09). The four women are the four fastest Americans ever in the race and constitute four of the nine fastest ever in the world. Jendrick won gold in the event at the 2000 Olympics while Kirk was sixth in the event at the 2004 Olympics.

'I'm really excited about the upcoming meet,' said Soni, who might also race in the 200m IM, though she is not a serious challenger to qualify in the event. 'We have been training really hard and it has been awesome to train with such a dedicated and focused team as we have become. I think we are all feeling ready to go, and I know I am just counting down the days until we get to swim. I'm nervous about it, but I'm also really excited for the chance to race.'

Other current USC swimmers scheduled to race in Omaha are seniors Rachael Waller (100m fly), 2008-2009 co-captain Katy Houston (100m breast, 200m IM) and Kristen Lahey (100m back), junior and 2009 USC co-captain James Martin (200m back) and sophomores Dillon Connolly (100m breast, 200m breast, 200m IM), Buddy Turner (100m free) and Jake Grosser (50m free). The recently graduated 2008 co-captain Bryce Elser (100m fly, 100m free) and former Trojan and current USC Ph.D candidate Erik Tolmachoff (100m and 200m fly) are also set to compete.

Former Trojan NCAA champions and Olympic medalists Larsen Jensen and Klete Keller, who have been training side-by-side with fellow Trojan and 2004 Tunisian Olympian Ous Melloui for the past year with Trojan Swim Club, will take their daily training battles from McDonald's Swim Stadium to the Qwest Center.

Larsen Jensen

Jensen, who won silver in the 1500m free at the 2004 Olympics, will look to qualify in that again and will also race in the 200m and 400m free. He is seeded second in the 1500m free and fourth in the 400m free. Jensen's silver-medal winning time in Athens, Greece, made him the third fastest man ever in the race.

Meanwhile, Keller is set to race in the 100m, 200m and 400m free. Keller is a four-time Olympic medalist who won bronze in the 400m free at the past two Olympics. He was part of the U.S. gold-winning 800m free relay in 2004 that upset Australia and won silver in the event in 2000. He is seeded second in the 400m free, third in the 200m free and 20th in the 100m free. Keller is the second fastest American ever in the 400m free and third fastest in the 200.

Keller and Jensen will both lock horns with former Trojan and two-time Olympic silver medalist in the 400m IM, Erik Vendt. Vendt, training with Club Wolverine in Michigan, is the top seed in the 1500m free and swam the race at the last two Olympics. Vendt, the sixth fastest man ever in both the 1500m free and 400m IM, is also seeded third in the 400m free and 400m IM, ninth in the 200m IM and 16th in the 200m free.

Training in Michigan with Vendt at Club Wolverine has been former Trojan great Kaitlin Sandeno, a two-time Olympian who has won four medals. Sandeno anchored the 800m free relay that captured gold and broke the 17-year-old world record at the 2004 Olympic Games. Also in Athens she won silver in the 400m IM in American record time and took bronze in the 400m free. She also won bronze in the 800m free in 2000. At the trials, she is the fourth seed in the 800m free, fifth in the 200m IM and is also scheduled to race in the 200m fly, 400m IM and the 200m and 400m free.

Kaitlin Sandeno

Hayley McGregory, a USC All-American in 2006 now training in Texas, is the second seed behind world record holder Natalie Coughlin in the 100m back and is the third seed in the 200m back.

Former Trojan Gabe Woodward, a 2004 Olympian, is scheduled to race in the 50m and 100m free. He is seeded 10th in the 50, 16th in the 100.

Amanda Weir, who competed briefly for USC in the fall of 2006 before turning pro, is competing in the 50m, 100m and 200m free.

Preliminaries are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. each day with finals at 6:45 p.m. (CDT). Actual start times for finals may vary each night due to television coverage, which is scheduled each evening. NBC is scheduled to air coverage from 7-8 p.m. ET on June 29 and July 4-6 while the USA Network will broadcast in the same time slot June 30 and July 1-3.

Starting on Sunday (June 22), Blythe Hartley, USC's most decorated diver ever, will compete in Canada's Olympic Diving Trials on 3-meter springboard. She represented Canada at the Olympics in 2000 and 2004.

Former Trojan All-American Mark Warkentin has already made the Olympic swim team in the Open Water 10k. Trojan senior Ankur Poseria has already qualified for the Olympics for his native India while former Trojan swimmer Tamas Kerekjarto has done the same for his native Hungary.

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